The Stupidity of Crowds

Patri talks a lot on his LJ blog about when crowds are wise and when they're not. IMHO Wikipedia is an excellent example of when crowds are not wise; one's actual knowledge has no correlation whatsoever with how much effort they're willing to put out to keep Wikipedia accurate, and some of my recent experience there seems to indicate exactly the opposite, that people who know what they're talking about have better things to do with their time than sit around all day fixing incorrect information in Wikipedia, whereas know-it-alls will spend lots of time "fixing" correct information that they disagree with. The other group who may not be know-it-alls are the rules nazis who care more about form than accuracy. These are the people who show up at all the HOA meetings to complain that your curtains are the wrong color when meanwhile the pipes are leaking and about to burst.

Recently I went back to the Wikipedia page on hydrogen peroxide out of curiosity to see if some fixes I'd made to dangerously inaccurate information on the page had survived. They had not. The same bullshit that I'd originally corrected (bullshit that could kill someone) had been returned. Rather than attempt to fix it again because the bullshit was now scattered throughout the article, I simply added a notation under "hazards" warning people that the article could be edited by *anyone* and that they should consult a source with actual accountability for safety information. My warning was reverted within minutes, with the notation on the edit referring me to a page entitled "What Wikipedia is Not" and suggesting that I use my knowledge to fix the information on the page. Well, I already *had* fixed the page, and some moron with far more certainty than knowledge had gone and screwed it up again. In addition, the "What Wikipedia Is Not" page mentions *nothing* about safety or accountability.

I've gone from merely thinking Wikipedia doesn't live up to its name to believing that it is a complete joke. I fully believe in people's right to publish, so I don't think it should be outlawed or anything, but I do think it's time that search engines start filtering out its content, at least so that it only shows up once instead of 500 times for all the different search-engine-spamming Wikipedia mirrors out there. It's shameful that Wikipedia shows up higher in search results than reputable sites whose entire reputation hinges on the correctness of the information they provide rather than merely being clearinghouses for hearsay. Hopefully Google is working on something to fix that.

P.S. I just noticed the hydrogen peroxide article is rated as "A-class" and as a "good article." I suggested that it lose those ratings until the problems are fixed. As an experiment, I added a "needs citation" tag to the storage section and took out the dangerously vague paragraph about compatible materials. Let's see how long that lasts!

P.P.S. If you actually care what the specific edits were and why I didn't put them in this post, read my comments below.

Share this